Apologies if I sound more cantankerous than my usual self, but it’s already midday (evening if you live on the East Coast) and I haven’t accomplished anything of note. My day began with a most unpleasant task, followed by a trip to the dentist for a teeth cleaning. My dentist and his staff are awesome, and my hygienist allows me to watch the fascinating Netflix series Our Planet, which I find incredibly relaxing and makes me appreciate the awesomeness of life. However, getting to the dentist can be challenging, as it requires navigating Los Angeles traffic and confronting some of the world’s biggest a-hole drivers, who in these parts seem to overwhelmingly drive BMWs and Teslas.
The unpleasant task was the closing of my mortgage refinancing, a process I know all too well. I’m blessed with a knack for evaluating real estate, and over the years I’ve bought and sold various properties in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, strictly adhering to my rule of buying only in down markets and selling in frothy ones. The practice has allowed me to improve the quality of my dwellings, but it’s also required me to take out multiple mortgages, a business area where Jamie Dimon’s Chase Bank seems to reign supreme.
All my mortgages have been with Chase.
Applying for a mortgage is torture enough, given all the forms that must be filled out and the documents that must be assembled and provided. The worst part of the process is the closing. It requires considerable focus on the mundane and financial minutia, which aren’t among my strong suits.
The woman who handled by mortgage closing was a genial older woman named Alema, who like everyone in her line of work I’ve dealt with arrived precisely on time. People in Los Angeles, particularly those in the service industry, tend to be flaky and often cancel appointments at the last minute or not show up at all. I’ve done two mortgage closings in Los Angeles, and both started exactly at their appointed times.
I’m confident in saying there are actually three certainties in life: death, taxes, and mortgage closing notaries always arrive on time.
I offered Alema a beverage, which she politely declined despite the intense California sun and heat. That’s something else I’ve noticed about mortgage closers: They will never accept a beverage. I wonder if they adhere to a very strict code of ethics where even accepting a glass of water is deemed a potential compromise. Alternatively, maybe thoroughly hydrating before meeting with a customer is one of the tricks of the trade.
Alema was very refined and professional, and I felt compelled to apologize when she first arrived. I explained that I knew that she was heavily armed with a stack of papers that I would be required to read, sign, and initialize and that I wasn’t wired for the procedure at hand. I also explained I was on edge about making it on time to the dentist, as I allowed no margin in the very likely event of traffic.
Alema smiled and assured me that she understood. And then she pulled out the dreaded documents.
Mortgage closing docs strike me as a farce, as one must sign or initialize every one or they aren’t getting a mortgage. I wonder if in the history of mortgage lending anyone has refused to sign all the required documents if they were properly prepared, which in my experience they always are.
When I balked at writing my social security number on one of the docs for security reasons, Alema smiled and said, “You know your social security number appears multiple times on these documents.” I wanted to scream, “Then why the heck do I need to write it down?” I didn’t want to alienate Alema, so I held my tongue.
What drives me crazy about mortgage closing documents is they include disclosures and provisions that don’t seem very well thought out. One of Alema’s documents was an acknowledgment that I had three days to cancel the mortgage, with the deadline being midnight this Friday. I asked Alema who I was supposed to call if on Friday at 11:30 pm I suddenly decided I wanted to cancel my mortgage.
“You’d call your mortgage originator,” she said.
My mortgage originator is based in New York, the city that supposedly never sleeps. But I wonder how accessible my originator would be if I needed to cancel my mortgage on a Friday night when she’s probably already left for the Hamptons or Jersey Shore.
Chase’s lawyers obviously don’t think about these things. But I do!
If I was named America’s consumer protection czar, I’d require that mortgage docs be simplified to five paragraphs that would give borrowers the unvarnished truth about what they were agreeing to and who they are dealing with.
Here’s my working draft:
Chase Bank, whose CEO Jamie Dimon received $35 million in 2022 compensation, can afford to pay such a generous wage because it pays customers bubkis for their deposits and then lends out the money at much higher interest rates to corporations and individuals like you. As Dimon expects to be paid, it’s imperative that you pay back the money Chase is lending you for his benefit.
Under the terms of this agreement, Chase will lend you (insert amount) at this (insert number) rate of interest. You are agreeing to make a monthly payment of (insert amount), and after (insert period) your loan will be fully repaid, and you will own your home free and clear.
It’s important you understand that Chase is a heartless bank and has no interest or tolerance for sob stories such as you lost your job, are undergoing cancer treatments, a close family member has died, or that you were yet another Chase customer who was victimized by scammers and had their life savings looted from your account. Life’s a bitch and your problems won’t become Chase’s problems.
Rest assured, Chase will get its money back if you fail to pay back our money, even if it means throwing you and your family on the street and selling your property. Should Chase be required to resort to collection measures, you credit rating will be destroyed and you will never again be able to borrow from a respectable financial institution like Chase or any of the few rivals left in the banking industry.
If you understand and accept these terms, please sign below. And thank you for borrowing from Chase.
Chase, of course, isn’t alone wasting people’s time filling out endless documents. The medical profession gives the bank a good run for its money, especially primary care doctors.
In my quest to find a competent primary care physician in L.A., I’ve met with various doctors in recent weeks whose front office staff required me to fill out a stack of forms that I’ve learned from experience are never read or reviewed, save for the insurance payment information, which is scrutinized with Talmudic attention.
I know this because for years I’ve put down my sex as female, listed myself as pregnant, and being afflicted with serious ailments that never once did a doctor ask me about. Okay, these days it would be impolitic for a physician to question my listed sex or that I’m pregnant, but I began doing so in the days when one wasn’t afforded the luxury of determining their gender.
A couple of years ago I went to a massage place where I was required to fill out detailed forms about my medical history and previous conditions that took me about 15 minutes to complete. Naturally, I noted that I was pregnant.
I gave the forms to the therapist who didn’t even glance at them. The therapist simply asked me whether I had any injuries she needed to know about and then went to work.
I still wonder what the office did with my forms.
Funeral homes and cemeteries deserve credit for the simplicity of their contracts. Buyers of caskets and plots aren’t confronted with detailed paperwork that all sales and resting places are final, and that there are no refunds or credits after a memorial service. It’s all understood.
That’s the irony about death. It’s one instance where I’d rather be filling out useless forms and signing mortgage closing contracts.